Guitar Based Twang: A Soaked Oats Interview

Originally published at: https://www.ambientlightblog.com/guitar-based-twang-a-soaked-oats-interview/

Kapiti Coast’s boutique music festival Coastella prides itself on booking a range of unique and quirky indie bands alongside their headliners, providing an all-round family-friendly big day out.

Now in its 3rd year, the gig boasts three Aussie acts: funksters Mama Kin; retro bluesman C.W. Stoneking and the big brass sound of Bulhorn. There’s also Auckland’s oddities Ha The Unclear; local folktronica duo Rosy Teacaddy; Womad sensations The Miltones; recent Euro-tourers The Beths; firm favourites Trinity Roots and upcoming Southern upstarts Soaked Oats.

With the help of some cellular magic, Tim Gruar managed to wrangle Soaked Oats’ drummer Conor Feehy away for a quick chat about their Australian adventures, making music about fruit and their new e.p, ahead of their upcoming appearance up the Coast…

Freehy is still on a major buzz from a recent tour that took in Melbourne, Canberra Wollongong and a few other dates over the ‘Ditch’. Because some of those gigs were in support of other bands or at wider public shows they could have easily been bland ‘also ran’ experiences. Yet, he was surprised at the incredibly positive reception they received. The band also did a few more intimate shows and again were well received. “So many people knew our stuff. They’d been online and found us. And they’d heard our songs, groovin’ away to us. That was so cool, given that we are still new.”

Yes, folks, they are a newly formed thing. Described as ‘a southern stew of Kurt Vile and Mac DeMarco, with a good shake of Kevin Morby’, Soaked Oats was formed just over 2 years ago as a support act for two other bands, the Shambles and Gromz, for a small gig at Auckland’s Neck of The Woods.

However, the ‘Oats were friends, first and foremost. Lead vocalist Oscar Mein, bassist Max Holmes and drummer Conor Feehy were all mates at Christchurch Boys’ High School before hooking up with guitarist Henry Francis later at Otago University (Francis also played with Feehy in The Shambles). Feehy was studying a master’s in science communication. When I asked him if that helped with the band and music, he just laughed. “Yeah, nah. Not at present. Oscar’s the main songwriter.” He tells me that all the songs on their first e.p. (Stone Fruit Melodies) were inspired by Oscar Mein’s holiday job selling fruit at a roadside stall. “I guess he was really bored. He was composing all these tunes based on the stock in the bins.” These fresh (pardon the pun), upbeat ‘chirpy’ songs have gained the band a certain level of notoriety, with catchy titles like Avocado Aficionado, Cherry Brother and I’m A Peach. Their guitar-based twang is popular with student audiences and the young at heart, all enjoying a good pogo around the dancefloor. “We gained a bit of ‘fame’ from those. In Aussie, I was surprised how many people had downloaded the songs and were singing along, jumping up and down. A great buzz.”

The band had started off on the right foot, by recording with Tom Bell at Chick’s Hotel, Port Chalmers. Feehy had heard that the place was haunted and that certainly added a certain vibe to their playing when they were there. “Yeah, I’m not really that freaked by these things but when the place creaks in the wind there’s a certain … ‘atmosphere’.”

Chick’s was originally built in 1876 as a commercial hotel, before in becoming a popular live music venue in 2008, hosting many national and international players. That included Sharon van Etten, Parquet Courts, Kurt Vile, Stephen Malkmus, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Steve Albini. Sadly, it closed in 2016 as a gig space but Tom Bell still records there. Apparently, there’s a basement dungeon and a ‘smuggling tunnel’ out to the sea. Legend has it that hotel patrons risked being dragged down and “shanghaied” after a few too many ales, waking up later on a fishing vessel halfway out to sea. That would explain those ghostly hauntings during recording sessions.

That didn’t faze the band, though, as they returned to record a portion of tracks for their upcoming e.p., to be released later this year, once engineer Tom Healy (The Lab) has added his finishing touches to them.

Aside from local and international tours, the band also found a few precious moments to put in a sweaty session in the Brick Room at Neil Finn’s Roundhead studios, which they’ve also youtubed for your viewing pleasure – check out The Stoned Fruit Live Session below.

And speaking of videos, their latest release Shuggah Doom has just come out. “Yeah, that video,” says Feehy, “it’s a different approach to our last e.p. and songs. It is much darker. In the video, Roxy, the actor, plays a person who’s writing the lyrics to the song of her life and trying to direct a movie about it. But it goes wrong (at least according to her). She can’t correct it.”

“The song and the video are about how we all try to write the narrative to our own story. We’re the centre of our own story and we are always want to add a positive spin…like how we post the best photos on our Facebook page. But that’s not what’s really going on. So, imagine, that you are wanting to make a movie of yourself and your life. You need it set up in a certain way but as you are filming that fantasy ‘reality’ kicks in and distorts your whole vision. That’s why at the end of the video Roxy tries to walk out of her own movie. She’s not happy with the way it’s going. Deep.”

Deep. Indeed.

Soaked Oats perform at Coastella, alongside The Beths, The Miltones, C.W. Stoneking, Mama Kin Spender, Trinity Roots and many others on 23 February, Southwards Car Museum, Paraparaumu. Tickets are still available from the Coastella Website, but get in quick as they’re selling fast!

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